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Genetic Engineering and Genomics
Issues
Biological
Concepts
Chapter Outline
• Does genetic engineering
fundamentally change the
biology of an organism?
• Does gene therapy work?
• When should gene
therapy be used? When should it not be
used?
• Do DNA tests positively identify
individuals?
• Why does the U.S. government fund the
Human Genome Project?
• What benefits have been derived from the
Human Genome Project?
• How could the results of the Human
Genome Project be misused? How can we
guard against such misuse?
• Biotechnology (The
Human Genome Project;
genetic engineering)
• Molecular biology
(genomics; bioinformatics)
• Structure–function relationships
(proteomics)
Genetic Engineering Changes the
Way That Genes Are Transferred
Methods of genetic engineering
Genetically engineered insulin
Gene therapy
Molecular Techniques Have Led to
New Uses for Genetic Information
The first DNA marker: restriction-fragment
length polymorphisms
Using DNA markers to identify individuals
Using DNA testing in historical controversies
The Human Genome Project Has
Changed Biology
Sequencing the human genome
The human genome draft sequence
Mapping the human genome
Some ethical and legal issues
Genomics Is a New Field of Biology
Developed as a Result of the Human
Genome Project
Bioinformatics
Comparative genomics
Functional genomics
Proteomics
4
95
96
A
s a result of information published in 2001, humans now know more
about themselves, at least at the molecular level, than they ever have
before. This watershed date marked the publication of the draft of the
nucleotide sequence of all of the DNA in human chromosomes. Along the
way, a complete map of the location of these nucleotide sequences on the
chromosomes was also produced. All of this information is stored in an
enormous database that is publicly available for use by any scientist in
the world. A tremendous amount of basic molecular biology has been
discovered in the course of the Human Genome Project that produced
this database. As a tool for biological research, this database potentially
offers new ways of studying everything else in biology. In addition, the
project has spawned many practical advances in biotechnology and
genetic engineering.
Genetic Engineering Changes the Way That
Genes Are Transferred
Genetic engineering is the direct alteration of individual genotypes. It is
also called recombinant DNA technology or gene splicing, terms which
are used interchangeably. Human genes can be inserted into human cells
for therapeutic purposes (gene therapy, p. 100). In addition, because all
species carry their genetic information in DNA and use the same genetic
code, genes can be moved from one species to another. The uses of
genetic engineering in plants are discussed in Chapter 11. Here we see
some of the applications of genetic engineering for human medicine.
Methods of genetic engineering
Whether the ‘engineered’ gene is one from the same species or a different
species, the techniques are much the same. All these technologies depend
on being able to cut and reassemble the genetic material in predictable
ways. This is possible owing to the discovery of special enzymes called
restriction enzymes.
Restriction enzymes.Restriction enzymes are enzymes used to cut
DNA at specific sites. There are several hundred restriction enzymes cur-
rently known and each cuts DNA at a different nucleotide sequence;
these target sites are generally about four to eight nucleotides long (Fig-
ure 4.1). Each of these restriction enzymes is a normal product of a par-
ticular bacterial species, and most are named after the bacteria from
which they are derived. Thus, in Figure 4.1, HaeIII is an enzyme from the
bacteria Haemophilus aegypticus and EcoRI is from Escherichia coli.
They are called restriction enzymes because their normal function within
the bacteria is to restrict the uptake of DNA from another bacterial
species. Each species’ restriction enzyme cuts the DNA from other
species, but not its own, because its own DNA does not contain the
nucleotide sequence that is the target site for its own enzyme.
Genetic Engineering and Genomics
4
Figure 4.1
Restriction enzymes. The
nucleotide sequences
recognized and cut by the
restriction enzymes HaeIII
and EcoRI are shown.
Genetic Engineering Changes the Way That Genes Are Transferred
97
Several other enzymes are known that can break apart a DNA
molecule, but an enzyme that acts indiscriminately is of little use in
genetic engineering. Restriction enzymes act specifically. Each restric-
tion enzyme generally cuts a sample of DNA in several places, wherever
the DNA contains a particular sequence of bases that the enzyme recog-
nizes, forming a series of pieces (called restriction fragments). A given
restriction enzyme mixed with the same sequence of DNA always pro-
duces the same number of fragments. The length of the pieces may vary
if there are variable repeat sequences, for example, but the number of
pieces and the places cut are always the same. Before the discovery of
restriction enzymes, breaking chromosomal DNA into pieces was done
mechanically, producing different numbers of pieces every time the pro-
cedure was done, making the results of DNA techniques impossible to
reproduce from one experiment to the next. Because restriction enzymes
always cut at the same sites, they can be used in genetic engineering.
Restriction enzymes in genetic engineering.The first step in inserting
a gene for genetic engineering is to isolate the gene in question. This is
carried out by using a restriction enzyme to snip out the desired segment
of DNA. Each restriction enzyme cuts the DNA at specific places, defined
by their DNA sequences. The most useful restriction enzymes are those
that cut the two DNA strands at locations that are not directly across from
each other, producing short sequences of single-stranded DNA known as
sticky ends (see Figure 4.1). For example, the commonly used restriction
enzyme EcoRI always targets the sequence GAATTC, cutting it between G
and AATTC, breaking the two-stranded sequence into fragments that have
sticky ends. The ends are called ‘sticky’ because they can stick together
spontaneously with another molecule containing complementary sticky
ends. In fragments cut with EcoRI, the single-stranded AATT sequences
can pair with one another, stick together, and then be joined permanently.
(An enzyme such as HaeIII that cuts at sites directly across from each
other forms ‘blunt’, rather than sticky, ends, as shown in Figure 4.1.)
If a particular restriction enzyme produces sticky ends, all fragments
cut with that enzyme will have sticky ends that match one another. Thus,
a fragment can be joined to any other fragment cut with the same
enzyme. This makes it possible to use restriction enzymes to cut a DNA
sequence and insert a functional gene with matching sticky ends.
G
C
G
C
G
C
G
G
HaeIII
EcoRI
+
+
C
C
T
A
G
C
T
T
A
A
T
A
target site
sugar–phosphate backbone
double-stranded
DNA
The HaeIII target site is four
bases long and the enzyme cuts
the DNA strands at sites directly
across from each other, leaving
double-stranded ('blunt') ends.
The EcoRI target is six bases
long and it cuts the DNA
between G and AATTC. The
sites on the two strands are
not directly across from each
other, leaving short single-
stranded ('sticky') ends.
G
C
G
C
G
C
G
C
G
C
T T
A A
G
C
A
T
A
T
Chapter 4: Genetic Engineering and Genomics
Restriction enzymes that produce blunt ends are useful in other ways,
but are not useful for genetic engineering because the fragments cannot
be put back together.
Cutting an entire chromosome with a restriction enzyme produces
many fragments, only one of which contains the gene to be isolated. A
DNA probe specific for the gene will isolate the fragment containing the
gene of interest. As we have seen before, such a probe is a complemen-
tary DNA strand that carries a radioactive or chemical tag. The probe
allows geneticists to isolate the labeled sequences, and then separate the
desired genes from the DNA probes that pair with them.
A functional gene isolated in this way can then be inserted into
another piece of DNA. The target DNA is cut with the same restriction
enzyme, so sticky ends complementary to the fragment are available, and
the gene can be incorporated permanently. So far, most genetic engineer-
ing of human genes has involved the introduction of these human genes
into bacteria. The reasons for this are largely practical: many human
gene products are useful in medicine but are more readily produced in
large amounts inside genetically engineered bacteria than inside people.
For example, the hormone somatostatin, also called growth hormone, is
highly valued for the treatment of certain types of dwarfism. The hor-
mone is, however, difficult to obtain from human sources (the traditional
way is to extract it from the pituitary glands of dozens of cadavers) and is
therefore very expensive. Insulin, the hormone needed by diabetics, is
another example of a human gene product. Both of these hormones
could be obtained from sheep or pigs or other animals, but the animal
hormones are not as active in humans as the human hormones, and
some patients are allergic to hormones obtained from other species.
Genetic engineering provides a cost-effective way of manufacturing large
amounts of these human hormones in bacteria.
Genetically engineered insulin
Human insulin was the first commercially produced genetically engi-
neered product. The initial step is to grow human cells in tissue culture.
Tissue culture is a procedure in which cells that have been removed from
an organism are grown in a dish of nutrient-rich medium kept at body
temperature in an incubator. After a sufficient number of cells have
grown, DNA extracted from the cell nuclei is then exposed to a restriction
enzyme that cuts the DNA into desired fragments. One fragment contains
the human gene for insulin, which can be isolated using a DNA probe.
The same restriction enzyme is used on nonchromosomal DNA
molecules, called plasmids. Bacteria have a single chromosome in the
form of a closed loop. Many also have a number of plasmids, short cir-
cular DNA pieces that are separate from the bacterial chromosome
(Figure 4.2).Plasmids are used in genetic engineering because, being
short, they have fewer sites at which a given restriction enzyme can cut.
Cutting a DNA sequence in the plasmid with the same restriction enzyme
that was used on the human DNA creates sticky ends that match the
DNA fragment taken from the human cell. This allows incorporation of
the human gene for insulin into the bacterial plasmid. The bacteria are
then treated so that they take up the engineered plasmid. In most cases,
the plasmid also contains another DNA sequence that can be used to
98
Figure 4.2
A bacterial cell showing its
single chromosome and one
plasmid.
bacterial
chromosome
plasmid
Genetic Engineering Changes the Way That Genes Are Transferred
99
select the bacteria that have incorporated an engineered plasmid. For
example, the plasmid might contain the gene for an enzyme that gives
the bacteria resistance to a common antibiotic; the antibiotic can then be
used to select the bacteria that have incorporated this gene while killing
the majority that are still susceptible. The procedures sound easy and
straightforward, but each step of the process is technically difficult and
only a small proportion of the attempts succeed.
The genetically altered bacterium can now be cloned, that is, allowed
to multiply asexually, which produces vast numbers of genetically identi-
cal copies of itself and its engineered plasmid. The resultant bacteria
then transcribe and translate the human gene to produce human insulin
(Figure 4.3). The human insulin extracted from these bacteria, called
recombinant human insulin, can be given to diabetic patients.
Figure 4.3
Production of genetically
engineered insulin.
Isolate human cells
and grow in tissue
culture.
1
Isolate DNA from the human cells.
2
Use a restriction enzyme to cut DNA
into fragments with sticky ends. Isolate
the fragment containing 'insulin gene'
with a probe.
3
Meanwhile, isolate plasmid DNA from
a bacterium.
4
Use the same restriction enzyme to cut the
plasmid DNA, creating matching sticky ends.
5
Combine plasmid and human DNA; some
of the plasmids will recombine with the
human DNA fragment containing the
insulin gene.
6
Allow new bacteria to incorporate the
recombinant plasmid into the bacterial
cell, then screen bacteria to find the
ones that have incorporated the human
gene for insulin.
7
Grow trillions of new insulin-
producing bacteria.
8
etc.
Chapter 4: Genetic Engineering and Genomics
Gene therapy
Instead of growing human insulin in bacteria (see Figure 4.3), genetic
engineering could theoretically be used to introduce the insulin gene into
human cells that do not possess a functional copy. (That would still not
cure diabetes unless these cells were also capable of appropriately
increasing or decreasing their output of insulin according to conditions.)
This type of genetic engineering is called gene therapy, the introduction
of genetically engineered cells into an individual for therapeutic purposes.
Treatment for hereditary immune deficiency.Human gene therapy
has been used successfully to treat severe combined immune deficiency
syndrome (SCIDS), a severe and usually fatal disease in which a child is
born without a functional immune system. Unable to fight infections,
these children will die from the slightest minor childhood disease unless
they are raised in total isolation: the ‘boy [or girl] in a bubble’ treatment.
The enzyme that controls one form of SCIDS has been identified; it is
called adenosine deaminase (ADA) and its gene is located on chromo-
some 20. A rare homozygous recessive condition results in a deficiency
of this enzyme, which in turn causes the disease.
Gene therapy for this condition consists of the following procedural
steps, shown in Figure 4.4.
1.Normal human cells are isolated. The cells most often used are T
lymphocytes, a type of blood cell that is easy to obtain from blood
and easy to grow in tissue culture.
2.The isolated cells are grown in tissue culture.
3.The DNA from these cells is isolated.
4.A restriction enzyme is used to cut the DNA into fragments with
sticky ends; one will contain the functional gene for ADA. A probe
with a complementary DNA sequence is then used to isolate and
identify the fragments bearing the gene.
5.The same restriction enzyme is used to create matching sticky
ends in viral DNA isolated from a virus known as LASN. This virus
was chosen because it can be used as a vector: it can transfer the
gene into the desired human cells—the host. (Other vector viruses
have also been used; each virus type varies in the size of DNA frag-
ment that can be inserted and the type of cell that it can enter.)
6.The viral DNA is then mixed with the human DNA fragments and
allowed to combine with them.
7.The virus is allowed to reassemble itself; it is then ready for
further use.
8.Blood is drawn from the patient to be treated and T lymphocytes
are isolated from this blood. These lymphocytes, like all of the
other cells from this person, are ADA-deficient because they do
not possess a functional ADA allele.
9.The virus is now used as a vector to transfer the functional gene.
The virus must get the gene not only into the lymphocyte but also
into its nucleus. The gene must incorporate into the cell’s DNA in
a location where it will be transcribed and where it does not break
up some other necessary gene sequence.
100
Genetic Engineering Changes the Way That Genes Are Transferred
101
10.The lymphocytes are tested to see which ones are able to produce
a functional ADA enzyme, showing that they have successfully
incorporated the functional ADA allele.
11.The genetically engineered lymphocytes are injected into the
patient, where they are expected to outgrow the genetically defec-
tive lymphocytes because the ADA-deficient cells do not divide as
fast as cells with the ADA enzyme.
Figure 4.4
An example of gene therapy
showing the transfer of the
human gene responsible for
adenosine deaminase (ADA).
Isolate normal human
T lymphocytes.
1
Grow lymphocytes in tissue
culture.
2
Isolate DNA from some
of the cells.
3
Use a restriction enzyme to cut this DNA
and produce 'sticky ends', then isolate
fragment containing the gene for ADA
enzyme.
4
Also isolate DNA from the LASN virus and
cut with the same restriction enzyme.
5
Mix the DNA fragments.
6
Combine T lymphocytes with
LASN virus (vector).
9
Grow cells and test for the ADA
enzyme, thus selecting lymphocytes
that have incorporated the vector
carrying this gene.
10
Inject genetically engineered
lymphocytes with gene for
ADA enzyme into the patient.
11
Withdraw blood and isolate
T lymphocytes from a patient
whose DNA lacks the gene
for ADA.
8
Allow new virus particles to
incorporate the recombinant DNA.
7
Chapter 4: Genetic Engineering and Genomics
Technical difficulties in gene therapy are numerous. Transferring large
pieces of DNA into cells is difficult (most genes are large). Inserting a
gene in a location in the DNA where its protein product will be tran-
scribed and translated in a normal way is far more difficult.
The gene therapy described above provides a functional gene that is
transcribed and translated by the body cells, producing the missing
enzyme in lymphocytes. Because lymphocytes are not the only cells that
need the ADA enzyme, the patient must also receive injections of the
ADA enzyme coupled to a molecule that permits it to enter cells. (This
last step might not be necessary for the treatment of other enzyme
defects.) The enzyme controls the symptoms of the disease, but it is not a
cure because the underlying disease is still present. Gene therapy for
ADA was first successfully used on a 4-year-old girl in 1990. A second
patient, a 9-year-old girl, began receiving treatments in 1991. Both
patients are being closely monitored, and their immune systems are now
working properly. However, because the genetically engineered cells are
mature lymphocytes, which have only a limited lifetime, repeated injec-
tions of genetically engineered cells are needed.
To get around this problem, in the hope of bringing about a more
lasting cure, some Italian researchers have tried using both genetically
engineered lymphocytes (as described above) and genetically engineered
bone marrow stem cells. Stem cells divide to form all the developed types
of blood cells (see Chapter 12) and they maintain this ability throughout
life. Therefore, after repaired lymphocytes die off, stem cells with
repaired DNA could divide to provide new, ADA-functional lymphocytes,
possibly for the lifetime of the individual. This type of therapy was begun
on a 5-year-old boy in 1992, and since then several other children have
received this treatment.
Questions of safety and ethics.There are legitimate safety concerns
with human gene therapy. For example, any virus used as a vector must
be capable of entering human cells. Might such a virus cause a disease of
its own? To preclude this possibility, the viruses used in human gene
therapy have been from viral strains with genetic defects that render
them incapable of reproducing and spreading to other cells. Might ran-
dom insertion into the host DNA destroy some other gene? Methods are
being developed for directing the insertion location, but it is still largely a
random event. In 1999, gene therapy clinical trials were halted in the
United States when an 18-year-old boy died after receiving a viral vector
for gene therapy for a metabolic disease. The reasons for his death were
not apparent, so clinical studies were halted until issues of safety could
be addressed. The boy’s father has testified at a U.S. Senate hearing that
the boy and his family were not fully informed of the dangers of the
experiment. Others have raised ethical objections to the use of the term
‘gene therapy’ in clinical trials when most of the experiments that have
been done so far have not been designed to cure any condition, only to
alleviate symptoms (or to test the safety of the procedure itself).
Gene therapy also raises other ethical concerns. New recombinant
DNA procedures are very expensive to develop. This raises ethical issues
of fairness: will the benefits of genetic engineering be available only to
102
CONNECTIONS
CHAPTER 12
those who can afford them? Should government programs provide
them through Medicare and Medicaid? Should insurance cover their
use? How can society’s health care resources best be distributed? If
medical resources are limited, should an expensive procedure used on
one person take up needed resources that could cover inexpensive treat-
ments of other diseases for many people? These particular questions
are not unique to genetic engineering; they apply to any expensive form
of medical treatment.
Genetic engineering may someday become commonplace in human
cells. In theory, gene therapy could be practised either on somatic cells or
on gametes. If it were performed on somatic cells, the effects of the gene
therapy would last as much as a lifetime, but no longer. For example,
insertion of the functional allele for insulin into the pancreatic cells of
patients with diabetes might cure them of the disease, but they would
still pass on the defective alleles to their children. A general consensus
has been reached that using gene therapy on somatic cells has an ethical
value if it is used for the purpose of treating a serious disease.
If successful gene therapy is performed on germ cells, then the
genetic defect will be cured in the future generations derived from those
germ cells. In addition to all the ethical questions raised earlier, gene
therapy on germ cells raises many additional ethical questions. Most
medical ethicists today advise caution and waiting in the case of germ-
cell gene therapy on humans until we have more experience with gene
therapy on somatic cells or in other species.
Genetic Engineering Changes the Way That Genes Are Transferred
103
THOUGHT QUESTIONS
1
The use of growth hormone for the
treatment of shortness (not dwarfism) in
otherwise healthy children is controversial,
but its testing for this purpose was
approved in 1993 by the Food and Drug
Administration. When does a phenotypic
condition unwanted by its bearer become a
disease to be treated? Who decides?
Should the use of human growth factor
produced by engineered bacteria to
increase someone’s height be allowed?
Is this simply another form of cosmetic
surgery, similar to breast implants
or face-lifts?
2
If a person dissatisfied with his or her
phenotype suffers from lack of self-esteem
on that account, does the lack of self-
esteem justify a procedure to correct the
phenotype? (This same argument is raised
to justify traditional forms of cosmetic
surgery.) Do parents have the right to
anticipate for a child what the future
effects on self-esteem will be with and
without corrective procedures? For a
phenotype such as height that develops
over a period of years, at what age is it
appropriate (if ever) to evaluate the
phenotype and decide upon corrective
measures?
3
A procedure such as gene therapy is
expensive. Who should pay for it? Is gene
therapy a limited resource? Does giving
gene therapy to one patient thereby deprive
another of medical care?
Chapter 4: Genetic Engineering and Genomics
Molecular Techniques Have Led to New
Uses for Genetic Information
Molecular biology is an interdisciplinary field that focuses on DNA.
Although there are many other kinds of molecules, molecular biologists
are concerned mostly with DNA. Molecular biology techniques can tell
us a lot about human genetics, and several marker systems have now
been discovered for studying human DNA. The first of these marker sys-
tems, restriction-fragment length polymorphisms, is described here.
More recently other markers, with names such as expressed sequence
tags, microsatellites, and single-nucleotide polymorphisms, have been
discovered.
Each person has a unique DNA sequence. If it were practical to
sequence a person’s whole genome, his or her DNA could definitively
identify a person. The human genome is far too long for it to be useful
for such identification, but the DNA marker techniques that have been so
useful in mapping gene regions have also proved useful in distinguishing,
with a high probability, any person from another except for identical
twins. Two frequent uses of this technique are in the identification of sus-
pects in police investigations and in disputes over paternity.
The first DNA marker: restriction-fragment length
polymorphisms
In 1980 a new mapping technique was devised that could readily be used
in human studies, as well as in studies on other species. DNA contains, in
addition to genes, noncoding regions that vary in length from one indi-
vidual to another. Short sequences of nucleotides, 3–30 bases long, are
repeated over and over anywhere from 20 to 100 times. These are called
short tandem repeats. Several thousand different such repeats are now
known in humans, each with a unique sequence not found elsewhere in
the genome. When DNA containing variable numbers of repeats is cut
with a restriction enzyme, fragments of DNA of various lengths are pro-
duced (Figure 4.5A). Variations (also called polymorphisms) in the
lengths of the fragments produced with restriction enzymes are known
as restriction-fragment length polymorphisms, or RFLPs (pro-
nounced “riflips”). The fragments of different lengths are separated by a
technique called electrophoresis (Figure 4.5B). As we saw in Chapter 3
(Figure 3.8, p. 73), because DNA carries an electric charge it moves in an
electric field. When a DNA sample that has been cut into fragments is
loaded onto a gel and electric current is applied, the fragments move.
The gel material retards the movement of the fragments somewhat, and
the larger the fragment, the more its movement is retarded by the gel. In
the time that the electric current is on, smaller fragments will therefore
move farther than large fragments. Because the nucleotide sequence of
each short tandem repeat is unique, each can be detected by a specific
probe, a piece of DNA with a sequence complementary to the repeat
sequence (Figure 4.5C). Probes are specific and cause only those frag-
ments to show up that have sequences complementary to the probe
sequence.
104
CONNECTIONS
CHAPTER 3
Molecular Techniques Have Led to New Uses for Genetic Information
105
Using DNA markers to identify individuals
Using the same DNA marker techniques that we saw above, geneticists
can compare DNA samples from different persons. The samples are cut
with restriction enzymes. Pieces are separated according to size by elec-
trophoresis and then transferred to a paper material. Radioactively
labeled probes complementary to known DNA sequences are then used
to detect the fragments containing particular variable repeats. These
fragments appear as bands, with their location indicating the fragment
length. Several probes can be used at once so that many bands show up,
not just one or two as in the example shown in Figure 4.5, in which just
one probe was used.
Bands at the same position indicate fragments of the same length in
samples being compared. If the band patterns are not the same, then it
can be stated with certainty that two samples did not come from the
same person. In the example from a criminal investigation shown in Fig-
ure 4.6, person 1 can be eliminated as a suspect because the band pattern
from the evidence is not the same as that from sample 1. The reverse is
not true, however; band patterns that are the same are not an absolute
guarantee that the samples came from the same individual. What are
being visualized are chunks of DNA of variable lengths, not the DNA
Figure 4.5
Restriction-fragment length
polymorphisms (RFLPs).
(A) CUTTING DNA WITH RESTRICTION ENZYMES
The pieces differ in length depending on the number of
repeats that exist within a piece. In this example, the piece
from the father is shorter because it has fewer repeats
than the piece from the mother, which is longer
because it has more repeats.
(B) SEPARATION BY ELECTROPHORESIS
The mixture of pieces is placed on a gel and exposed to an
electric field. Because DNA has a negative charge, the pieces
move toward the positive electrode. In the time that the
current is on, smaller pieces travel farther through the gel
than the larger ones do. None of these pieces is visible yet.
(C) DETECTION WITH A PROBE
None of the pieces can be seen; however, they can be
detected with a variable-repeat probe tagged radioactively
or chemically (bands shown in color). The probe is a small piece
of DNA with a sequence complementary to the sequence of that
variable repeat, so the probe will bind to those pieces of DNA
containing that variable repeat. The probe thus does two things: it
identifies pieces with that specific repeat and it indicates whether
the sequence is repeated a few times (to give a short DNA piece)
or many times (to give a long piece). Other probes will find other
sequences that are repeated in other chromosomal locations.
chromosome
from father
chromosome
from mother
repeat sequence restriction enzyme cut
DNA fragment not bound
by the probe
longer piece from
mother’s chromosome
shorter piece from
father’s chromosome
sample loaded
onto gel by pipette
power
source
+
DNA from a pair of chromosomes
direction
of travel
Figure 4.6
Forensic DNA technology. In
this example, the evidence
sample shows the same
pattern of bands as DNA
from suspect 2. There is
therefore a high probability
that the DNA in the evidence
is from that suspect. The
person from whom sample 1
was taken can be eliminated
as a suspect.
Chapter 4: Genetic Engineering and Genomics
sequences of the chunks. A score is calculated that indicates how likely it
is that a randomly chosen person, other than the one tested, could have
the same band pattern.
The likelihood that another, randomly selected person could have the
same banding pattern is made very small in two ways. First, the DNA
probes selected are those that pick up specific DNA markers that are rare
in a given population. Also, several DNA probes are used, one after
another, to produce a composite banding pattern. The probability that
the bands produced with just one DNA probe are the same for two people
is equal to the frequency of that DNA marker in the population. If more
than one DNA probe is used, the probability of both band patterns’
matching is equal to the population frequency of the first DNA marker
multiplied by the population frequency of the second, and so on for mul-
tiple DNA probes and markers.
There are many ways in which the banding pattern can yield
flawed or ambiguous results if samples are not properly processed.
In samples from crime scenes, there is often DNA from mixed
sources, including DNA from several people and from bacteria or
fungi. Protein material in the sample may slow the movement of a
restriction fragment in the electrophoresis, making the DNA frag-
ment appear as though it were larger than it is. Other chemicals in
the samples, such as the dyes in cloth, can interfere with the restric-
tion enzymes cutting the DNA. However, when the tests are done
properly and with the proper controls, they can be very reliable. In
addition to linking suspects to material taken from crime scenes, the
methods can be used to settle questions of disputed parentage. The
methods can also be used to identify the dead when an intact corpse
is not available, as in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in the
United States on 11 September, 2001.
Using DNA testing in historical controversies
An unusual use of this technique helped shed new light on a histori-
cal controversy involving Thomas Jefferson, the third president of
the United States. DNA markers were used to investigate whether
Thomas Jefferson could have been the father of children borne by
one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. Two oral traditions exist: descen-
dants of Hemings’s sons, Eston Hemings Jefferson and Thomas
Woodson, believe that Jefferson was their ancestor, while descen-
dants of Jefferson’s sister believe that one of her children, Jefferson’s
nephew, fathered Sally Hemings’s later children. Researchers com-
pared Y chromosomal DNA from descendants of two of Sally Hem-
ings’s sons with DNA from descendants of one of Thomas Jefferson’s
uncles. No Y chromosomal DNA was available from Thomas Jeffer-
son’s direct descendants because he had no sons who survived to
have children.
The DNA data show that a set of 19 markers (collectively called
the haplotype) is shared by all five of the descendants of Jefferson’s
uncle who were tested and by the descendants of Eston Hemings Jef-
ferson. The haplotype is not shared by descendants of Hemings’s
other son, Thomas Woodson, or by the descendants of Jefferson’s
nephew, nor was it found in almost 1900 unrelated men. Thus, Jeffer-
son may definitively be ruled out as the father of Thomas Woodson.
106
evidence
isolate and
purify DNA
digest DNA
with restriction
enzyme
separate DNA
fragments by
electrophoresis
transfer fragments
to nylon membrane
(Southern blotting)
add radioactively
labeled DNA
probes
wash membrane,
expose to X-ray
film, develop
DNA profiles


E = evidence
S1, S2 = samples
from two
suspects
E S1 S2
samples from
two suspects
The Human Genome Project Has Changed Biology
107
In the case of the positive match, however, the evidence supports, but
does not prove, the idea that Thomas Jefferson could have been Eston
Hemings Jefferson’s father. As we explained earlier, positive matches
indicate probabilities, not definite identity. The researchers state that
because “the frequency of the Jefferson haplotype is less than 0.1%,”
their results are “at least 100 times more likely if the president was the
father of Eston Hemings Jefferson than if someone unrelated was the
father.” They also state that they “cannot completely rule out other expla-
nations of our findings,” but that “in the absence of historical evidence to
support such possibilities, we consider them to be unlikely.” Interest-
ingly, although the authors are very precise in the text of their article, the
title, “Jefferson fathered slave’s last child,” overstates their results (E.A.
Foster et al. Nature 396: 27, 1998).
The Human Genome Project Has Changed
Biology
The complete genetic material of an entire organism is known as its
genome. In 1986, scientists proposed a project to make a genetic map, or
catalogue, of a prototypical human, including the chromosomal location
of all human genes and the complete DNA sequence of the genome.
Many scientists and physicians think that many medical and other bene-
fits could flow from knowing the location and sequence of all the genes.
Such knowledge would facilitate locating genes that are associated with
diseases or disease susceptibility. It will also make possible the develop-
ment of drugs that are much more specifically tailored to block particu-
lar molecules. This effort became known as the Human Genome Project.
The Human Genome Project was funded by the U.S. Congress to
begin work in the fall of 1989, and James Watson, co-discoverer of the
double-helical structure of DNA, was appointed as the first director.
Watson stated his belief that the Human Genome Project would tell us
what it means to be human.
THOUGHT QUESTIONS
1
Thomas Jefferson had daughters who
survived to have children. Why was the
DNA of their descendants not used in the
study to determine the paternity of Eston
Hemings Jefferson and Thomas Woodson?
2
The authors of the Jefferson study state
that they “cannot completely rule out other
explanations of our findings.” What other
explanations are biologically possible?
3
Think about the study done on DNA from
descendants of Jefferson’s family and Sally
Hemings’s sons. Why is the title of the
study, “Jefferson fathered slave’s last
child,” an overstatement of the results?
4
In the study on Jefferson’s descendants,
why did the researchers test DNA at 19
DNA marker sites, rather than just at one
or two sites?
It should be noted, however, that although we talk of the human
genome sequence, the DNA sequence of each person is unique. There is
no one DNA sequence that is representative of every human, just as no
one person could be said to represent all humans in any other method of
describing people. It is estimated that one person differs from another in
about 0.1% of the 3 billion base pairs in the human genome. People
share the same genes but the nucleotide sequences of those genes vary in
different alleles.
Sequencing the human genome
One of the stated goals of the Human Genome Project was to determine
the human DNA sequence. When we read in the newspaper or hear on
television about a genome being sequenced, what does this mean? The
‘sequence’ of DNA is the order in which the four nucleotide bases (see
Chapter 2, p. 56) appear from one end of the DNA molecule to the other.
Because DNA is an unbranched molecule, the sequence of bases can be
‘read’ from one end to the other.
Determining the order of nucleotides by using fluorescent dyes.
Because the amount of DNA in even one chromosome is enormous, it is
not practical to work with the whole length of a chromosome in deter-
mining sequences. The maximum size of pieces that can be sequenced is
currently about 500–700 bases long. The chromosomes are therefore sep-
arated and each is cut into overlapping pieces with restriction enzymes.
Each piece is inserted into a plasmid which enters a bacterium. The bac-
teria then divide repeatedly and make large quantities of one piece at a
time, as we saw on p. 98 for bacterial production of human insulin.
The nucleotide sequence of each of the pieces can then be deter-
mined using an established method (called the di-deoxy method) based
on DNA synthesis. The DNA is used as a template for synthesis of new
DNA strands in a test tube, as outlined in Figure 4.7. The overall result is
the production of a series of smaller pieces, each piece one nucleotide
longer than the next. Each of the small pieces is then separated by elec-
trophoresis. The pieces are made visible with a fluorescent dye, a differ-
ent color used for each of the four nucleotides. Unlike the specific probes
used with DNA markers, fluorescent dyes make all of the pieces visible
that end in that nucleotide. The sequence of bases in the DNA fragment
can thus be read from the gel: the base found at the end of the shortest
piece is first (traveled farthest in the gel), followed by the base found at
the end of the next longer piece (traveled the second farthest in the gel),
and so forth.
Mistakes can occur in either copying or sequencing, and repeating
the process does not always give the same answer, so the technique must
be repeated several times by different laboratories until a consensus
sequence is established. After the sequence of each piece has been deter-
mined, the pieces must be arranged in their original order to get the
overall sequence. Remember: this sequence analysis has been carried out
on only one fragment of a chromosome at a time. The next challenge is
to piece together the sequenced fragments, which is part of the mapping
procedure discussed below.
The non-coding DNA.Most of the human chromosomal DNA does not
code for genes, however, and the Human Genome Project included the
Chapter 4: Genetic Engineering and Genomics
108
CONNECTIONS
CHAPTER 2
The Human Genome Project Has Changed Biology
109
sequencing of these non-coding regions. The non-gene DNA consists of
‘spacer’ sequences that are never transcribed, and other kinds of
sequences that are transcribed but never translated. The function of most
of these non-gene sequences is currently unknown, and the wisdom of
spending an estimated $15 billion on their sequencing is a question on
which opinion, even among scientists, differs widely. These non-coding
regions, however, have turned out to be the locations of many of the DNA
markers discussed earlier, which have allowed us to find where specific
Figure 4.7
Discovering the nucleotide
sequence of a piece of DNA.
1. PRECURSORS
GCAT direction of synthesis
CGT AT ACAGT CAGGTC
primer to start synthesis
single-stranded DNA to
be sequenced
normal
triphosphate
precursors
(A, T, C, G)
small amount
of abnormal
precursors
(A and T and C and G)
add enzyme
G
A
G
C
C
T
C
A
T
A
T
A
G
G
GCAT A
GCAT ATGTCA
GCAT ATGTCAGTCCA
GCAT AT
GCAT ATGT
GCAT ATGTCAGT
GCAT ATGTC
GCAT ATGTCAGTC
GCAT ATGTCAGTCC
GCAT ATG
GCAT ATGTCAG
GCAT ATGTCAGTCCAG
A piece of single-stranded DNA to be sequenced is
added to a test tube with an enzyme to activate
DNA synthesis and the four precursor triphosphates
(black A, T, C and G). Also added are small amounts
of chemicals similar to each of the triphosphate
precursors, which can add to the growing chain but
cannot then bond to the next precursor. Each of the
four types of abnormal precursors is labeled with a
differently colored fluorescent dye: red As, green Ts,
blue Cs and orange Gs.
2. DNA SYNTHESIS
DNA synthesis is then allowed to
proceed. When a normal, black
precursor is added to the template, the
chain keeps growing. When, by random
chance, an abnormal precursor gets
added instead, synthesis of that chain
stops, leaving a strand shorter than the
strand being sequenced. Each chain is
one nucleotide longer or shorter than
the others. Each short sequence ends
with a fluorescently tagged molecule.
3. ELECTROPHORESIS
The pieces can then be separated by
size using electrophoresis. In the time
that the current is on, the fragment
that consists of the primer plus a single
nucleotide (A in this illustration) will
travel the farthest. The fragment that is
the primer plus two nucleotides (A + T)
will travel not quite as far, and so forth.
4. READING THE SEQUENCE
A fluorescence detector reads each
band of the gel, detecting the color of
the dye labeling that band.
power
source
+
+
direction in which
DNA moves
during
electrophoresis
sequence of
newly
synthesized
DNA
A T G T C A G T C C A G
amount of fluorescent
color detected
distance from bottom of the
electrophoresis gel
+
Chapter 4: Genetic Engineering and Genomics
genes are located. Other scientists suggest that these non-coding regions
will also turn out to be important for other reasons. For example, the
non-coding regions are the binding sites for proteins, such as the SRY
protein (see Chapter 2, p. 48), that regulate DNA folding, and thus regu-
late when a gene is transcribed.
The human genome draft sequence
In February 2001 two groups simultaneously announced completion of a
draft of the sequence of the human genome. One group, the International
Human Genome Sequencing Consortium, involving laboratories from
the United States, Britain, Japan, France, Germany, and China, pub-
lished their results in Nature (409: 860). The other group, a biotechnol-
ogy company called Celera Genomics, published their results on the
same day in Science (291: 1304). The draft covers about 94% of the esti-
mated 3 billion bases in the complete genome. Of those 3 billion bases, 1
billion have been sequenced to completion, including all of those on the
smallest paired chromosomes, chromosomes 21 and 22. The other 2 bil-
lion bases contain gaps and areas where different efforts at sequencing
have resulted in different answers.
Completion of the draft sequence supported some previously estab-
lished hypotheses, but also produced some surprises. Some key results are:
1.About 95% of the human genome represents non-coding DNA, a
large proportion of which is composed of repetitive sequences. Less
than 5% of the human genome is composed of genes, sequences
that code for RNAs or proteins. It has been known for a while that
the complexity of an organism does not correlate with the size of
its genome. Much of the excess size is due to these non-coding,
repeat sequences. Detailed knowledge of these sequences is open-
ing up a new resource for studying evolution. These sequences
can be likened to living fossils carried within each of us. They are
already used in population genetic studies examining the migra-
tions of human populations.
2.The actual number of genes is smaller than previously estimated. In
humans it is difficult to predict which sequences represent genes,
for reasons we discuss later. Thus, although the draft sequence of
the human genome has been published, the number of genes
remains unknown. The estimate of the number of genes is cur-
rently between 30,500 and 35,500. (Previous estimates had been
between 50,000 and 100,000 genes.) The numbers of genes in the
fruitfly (Drosophila melanogaster) and the roundworm
(Caenorhabditis elegans) have been ascertained; comparisons
reveal that humans are likely to have only twice as many genes as
each of them.
3.The protein products of many human genes remain unknown.It
has been found that many of the known genes can be translated in
different ways to produce alternative protein variants from the
same gene (see Figure 4.10, p. 117). Thus, although we have only
twice as many genes as fruitflies, we may have five times as many
different proteins.
110
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The Human Genome Project Has Changed Biology
111
4.A very high percentage of our genes are not unique to humans but
are closely similar to comparable genes from other species.In fact,
only 1% of human genes have no sequence similarity to any other
organism. Our genes are similar to 46% of the genes in yeast,
among the simplest organisms whose cells have a nucleus.
Changes within genes over time provide clues to rates and paths
of evolution.
5.More than 200 human genes and their protein products have been
found to have significant similarity to those in bacteria.These
genes are not found in intermediate organisms such as fruitflies,
and one school of thought suggests that these genes jumped from
bacteria to humans or vice versa.
6.Mutation rates differ in different parts of the genome.They are also
higher in males than in females, although the reason for such a
difference is not known.
7.Within each gene, there is an average of 15 sites at which different
individuals carry a different nucleotide, or at which the same indi-
vidual may have a different nucleotide on each chromosome in a
pair.These variations, called single-nucleotide polymorphisms,
are greatly expanding how many alleles we think are possible for
different genes. In addition, these small changes may affect the
physiology of the organism possessing them. Some of these poly-
morphisms are associated with disease; most are not, but are
instead associated with small changes in protein function or regu-
lation. Knowledge of such small-scale variations continues to
challenge our concepts of terms such as ‘heterozygous’, ‘domi-
nant’ and ‘recessive’, and ‘allele’. It also makes it clear that there is
no such thing as the human genome sequence. The genome
sequence within each individual is unique.
In April of 2003, only two years after publication of the draft sequence,
the sequence of the human genome was completed. Its publication in the
journal Nature was timed to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of Wat-
son and Crick’s article describing the double helical structure of DNA.
Mapping the human genome
Another goal of the Human Genome Project was to map the human
genome. Mapping a species’ genome means identifying the chromosomal
location of each gene and the order of the genes relative to one another.
Just determining the sequence of a piece of DNA does not tell you its
location in the genome. The molecular techniques developed as part of
the Human Genome Project have accelerated the mapping and identifi-
cation of genes more generally.
One way to map a large piece of DNA is to cut the same long piece
with two different restriction enzymes, derive the sequence of each of the
pieces, then use computers to discover how the two sets of pieces over-
lap. Figure 4.8 shows how sequence data from overlapping fragments of
DNA are used to derive the original order of the fragments. Figure 4.8A
shows two sets of fragments of DNA produced by cutting a DNA sample
with different restriction enzymes. The first restriction enzyme cut the
Chapter 4: Genetic Engineering and Genomics
DNA into six pieces only; the second resulted in eight pieces. The bases in
the sequences of each of the eight pieces can be lined up to match the
bases in the six pieces. Can you see how you would use this idea to deter-
mine the order that the six pieces had originally been in? Now turn the
page and look at Figure 4.8B.
In our example the largest piece contains 40 bases. Actual DNA
pieces for sequencing are around 500 bases in length. Because the pieces
are so much longer and there are so many of them, computers are
needed to line up the overlaps. The accuracy of the method increases
with the length of the overlapping region. The longer the sequence of the
overlap between two pieces, the higher the probability that the sequence
will appear only once in the genome, allowing the unambiguous assign-
ment of the position of the two pieces relative to each other.
Celera used this approach first in 1995 with the complete sequencing
of the genome of the bacteria Haemophilus influenzae. The same
approach was used successfully on the genomes of the 599 viruses, 31
eubacteria, and 7 archaebacteria that were sequenced between 1995 and
2002. They believe that the same approach will work for mapping the
human genome.
But there are obstacles to applying this approach to mapping the
human genome. One obstacle is size; the human genome is about 25
times larger than any previously sequenced genome, although it is far
from being the largest genome known. (One species of single-celled
amoeba has a genome 200 times larger than humans!) Another obstacle
to accurate reassembly is the fact that much of the non-coding DNA in
the human genome is composed of repeated sequences of nucleotides.
This enormously complicates the job of putting pieces into unambiguous
order. Species whose genomes had previously been sequenced do not
contain these repeats, so it was much easier to determine which piece
went where in these genomes.
The International Human
Genome Sequencing Consor-
tium therefore used DNA
markers in addition to
sequence overlap to map the
locations of the pieces. In the
technique used by the Con-
sortium, the total DNA in the
genome was split into 29,298
overlapping large fragments
with a variety of restriction
enzymes. Each large piece
was further split into pieces
of a size that could be
sequenced. Sequencing of the
small pieces has been pro-
ceeding at the same time as
the mapping of the large frag-
ments, and one advantage of
this approach is that different
laboratories can be simulta-
112
Figure 4.8(A)
Combining the sequences
of small pieces into the
sequence of the original
whole chromosome. Here
are the fragments of a
sequence cut with two
different enzymes. Can you
piece them together to
reconstruct the complete
sequence? Don’t turn the
page until you’ve tried it!
In this example, a DNA sequence of 150 bases is cut with two different restriction
enzymes, producing the following fragments, each of which has been sequenced.
Try to piece these fragmentary sequences together and determine the entire sequence of
150 bases, before you turn the page.
Fragments from the first restriction enzyme:
GGTCGGCTATGTAACGAGTTGCC
TCTTGTTCCTAGCTTGTCAACCGGGGATGAATGTTTACTG
CACGCGGACCGTCGGTTCAT
GTCGCAGAGCCTATTGCGAGAAGT
GCCCACCTT
TTATTGAGTTGATGCTCGACGTAGCCAGACTTAA
Fragments from the second restriction enzyme:
ACCGGGGATGAATGTTTACTGGTCGCAGAG
CCTATTGCGAGAAGTGGTCGGCTA
CTTGTCA
TGATGCTCGACGT
CGTCGGTTCAT
AGCCAGACTTAACACGCGGAC
TGTAACGAGTTGCCGCCCACCTTTTATTGAGT
TCTTGTTCCTAG
The Human Genome Project Has Changed Biology
113
neously working on different pieces of the puzzle. Indeed, the location of
each of the large fragments within the genome has now been mapped
and the map is publicly available. Mapping of all of the small pieces is
still proceeding.
Because Celera started with all small pieces, the Consortium main-
tains that Celera will not be able to reassemble the sequences of their
small pieces without referring to the publicly available data posted by the
Consortium. Celera maintains that because the Consortium map and
sequence data are publicly available, Celera should use it to help assem-
ble their small pieces more quickly. Why continue to insist on the slow
way, when those data can now be used in a more rapid way?
The Consortium requires rapid, public disclosure of all data. Their
decision to publish a draft sequence as fast as possible was driven, in
their words, by “concerns about commercial plans to generate propri-
etary databases of human sequences that might be subject to undesirable
restrictions on use” (Nature 409: 863). These worries have to do with the
stated intentions of Celera Genomics to require others to pay for access
to their databases.
Some ethical and legal issues
Many of the issues already covered in Chapter 3 regarding genetic testing
will become more commonplace as molecular genetics continues to
change medicine. How does an individual’s right to privacy balance
against family members’ desire to know the results of genetic tests or an
insurance carrier’s or employer’s desire to cover or to hire only employ-
ees who will remain healthy? How does an individual’s desire to control
their own reproduction balance against possible eugenic aims of society
or against further stigmatization of disabled people? How can genetic
counseling be value-free while providing education about genetics and
not just about the testing procedure itself?
When the Human Genome Project was funded, scientists saw the
need for examination of the ethical, legal, and social issues (anticipated
and unanticipated) that would be raised by the research. One percent of
the funding was set aside for this effort. The issues just mentioned are
among those being studied, but there are many others. Social workers,
anthropologists, ecologists, ethicists, and others are working together to
examine the issues raised by the study of genetic variation in human
populations and by the integration of genetic information into health
care as well as into non-clinical settings. Others are studying the ways in
which socioeconomic factors, race, and ethnicity influence people’s
understanding, interpretation, and use of genetic information. Simulta-
neously, new genetic information continues to change our concepts of
race and ethnicity (see Chapter 7). Others are examining how genetic
knowledge and concepts interact with different philosophical and theo-
logical traditions. Many of the working groups have composed reports
with their answers to many of these questions and their guidelines for
the use of genetic information. These reports are available at the Web site
www.genome.gov.
In addition, the data derived from the Human Genome Project raise
questions of ownership and patent rights. Who owns the human genome
CONNECTIONS
CHAPTERS 3,7
Chapter 4: Genetic Engineering and Genomics
or the sequence of any particular gene? If a researcher localizes a gene to
a particular chromosome, can that researcher patent the information?
Can a gene sequence be copyrighted in the manner of a book? Can the
genes themselves be patented? Certain biotechnology companies stand to
profit greatly from the marketing of gene sequences, tests for gene
sequences, or cures for various genetic diseases, but the sharing of infor-
mation on gene sequences seems at first glance to threaten their compet-
itive position. Several corporations intend to determine as many gene
sequences as possible and then copyright them and sell the information
at a profit. Other scientists think that the human genome should be pub-
lic information, and that scientists should share this information cooper-
atively, particularly if public money in the form of research grants has
been used in production of the knowledge. A middle ground is develop-
ing, wherein most sequences are posted in data banks with public access,
but fees are sometimes charged for that access.
114
Figure 4.8(B)
Here is the complete
sequence of 150 bases.
Geneticists usually work
with hundreds of fragments
at once, each of them longer
than this entire sequence, so
the task of piecing them
together is much more
difficult.
When the two sets of fragments are lined up in this way, the order of the bases in the first row
is the same as the order of the bases in the second row.
and the complete sequence is therefore as follows:
TCTTGTTCCTAGCTTGTCAACCGGGGATGAATGTTTACTGGTCGCAGAGC-
TCTTGTTCCTAGCTTGTCAACCGGGGATGAATGTTTACTGGTCGCAGAGC-
TCTTGTTCCTAGCTTGTCAACCGGGGATGAATGTTTACTGGTCGCAGAGC-
CTATTGCGAGAAGTGGTCGGCTATGTAACGAGTTGCCGCCCACCTTTTAT-
CTATTGCGAGAAGTGGTCGGCTATGTAACGAGTTGCCGCCCACCTTTTAT-
CTATTGCGAGAAGTGGTCGGCTATGTAACGAGTTGCCGCCCACCTTTTAT-
TGAGTTGATGCTCGACGTAGCCAGACTTAACACGCGGACCGTCGGTTCAT
TGAGTTGATGCTCGACGTAGCCAGACTTAACACGCGGACCGTCGGTTCAT
TGAGTTGATGCTCGACGTAGCCAGACTTAACACGCGGACCGTCGGTTCAT
deduced sequence
fragments from first enzyme
fragments from second enzyme
THOUGHT QUESTIONS
1
To what extent do you agree with Watson’s
statement that sequencing the human
genome will tell us what it means to be
human? Suppose you knew the exact gene
sequence of part or all of your genome;
what would you really know about
yourself?
2
If only stretches of DNA 500–700 bases
long can be sequenced at a time, how
many of these small sections of DNA must
be sequenced to determine the sequence of
the entire human genome? (Think also
about the overlaps required to piece the
sequences together; assume an average of
10% overlap.)
3
Will the DNA sequence of the human
genome tell us what traits are controlled
by each part of the sequence? Will it tell us
which sequences represent genes and
which sequences represent spacers?
4
If you have a certain rare genetic
condition, and scientists use cell samples
from your body to determine the gene’s
DNA sequence, what rights (if any) does
this give you to the information? Do the
scientists have the right to publish your
gene sequence, or any part of it? Is it an
invasion of your privacy? Can the
scientists sell the information? If they do,
are you entitled to a share of the profits?
Genomics Is a New Field of Biology Developed as a Result of the Human Genome Project
115
Genomics Is a New Field of Biology
Developed as a Result of the Human
Genome Project
The Human Genome Project also funded the sequencing of the genomes
of many other species. This may seem odd at first because the name of
the project specifies the human genome, but there were several reasons
for including these other species. The study of the genomes of species
has become an entire new area of biology called genomics. This field has
arisen to help unfold the mysteries of human genes now that the
sequences and mapping are nearing completion. One focus of genomics
is the identification of individual human genes. The combination of
molecular biology and computer science that has been necessary to navi-
gate through the tremendous amounts of data produced by the various
genome projects is called bioinformatics.
Bioinformatics
Just as the NASA space program led to many unexpected ‘spin-off’ tech-
nologies in the 1960s and 1970s, the Human Genome Project is doing so
as well, with new computer technologies and genetic engineering having
wide applications outside genetics. DNA sequencing and mapping would
not have been practical before the advent of large computers. Although
the techniques for determining sequences of short pieces of DNA are
rather simple (see Figure 4.7), finding the overlaps that indicate how the
small sequenced pieces were originally arranged (see Figure 4.8) requires
massive computer power. Then, when the longer sequences have been
determined, storing the data has necessitated the development of larger
and larger computer databases and new methods for searching them.
Genomics requires the development of new types of computer software.
The need for people who are trained in both molecular biology and com-
puter science who can work with these data has made bioinformatics a
fast-growing new field of employment.
One research project within bioinformatics has been the develop-
ment of computer programs to locate genes within a genome. In the past,
as we have seen, scientists worked from a trait, back to finding a gene.
Now that the genome sequence is complete for many species and nearly
complete for humans, the method of gene discovery has changed. Now
people are examining the sequence data itself and trying to determine
which parts may be genes, without any prior knowledge of a trait or a
function for those genes. Many such genes have already been found in
bacteria and yeast, and they are referred to as “orphan genes” because, at
the time of their discovery, no function was known. (The later identifica-
tion of their function is part of the research program of functional
genomics, described later.)
Within bioinformatics, people are programming computers to scan
the sequence data to locate genes, meaning areas that code for RNAs and
proteins. To do so, programmers must discern ‘rules’ of the genetic code:
what characteristics of a sequence distinguish a coding region from a
non-coding region? The computer search for genes within sequences is
called gene scanning.
Chapter 4: Genetic Engineering and Genomics
Gene scanning in different organisms.Interestingly, most genes start
with the codon ATG and end with one of three ‘stop codons’: TAA, TAG,
or TGA. If the nucleotides A, T, G and C were distributed randomly, each
of the stop codon triplets would be expected to occur on average every 4
3
or 64 bases. But nucleotides are not distributed randomly within genes;
they are retained in a non-random pattern as a result of evolution
because they code for a product conferring advantage to the organism. In
bacteria, genes are typically 300–500 codons long, are contiguous, and do
not overlap. In addition, bacteria have very little non-coding DNA. These
factors make gene scanning in bacteria relatively easy. A computer can
scan the sequences that follow any ATG and find those areas where the
next stop codon occurs a few hundred bases further along.
Gene scanning is much more difficult in other organisms, namely the
nucleated organisms (eucaryotic organisms; see Chapter 5). In contrast
to bacterial species, they have long, non-coding stretches of nucleotides
(called introns) dispersed among much shorter regions that correspond
to codons. While the coding regions (called exons) are roughly the same
lengths in different species, the size of the non-coding introns is much
greater in humans than in other species (Figure 4.9).
Within the human genome, less than 5% is located within genes; fur-
thermore, within these human genes, only about 5% of the nucleotides
comprise coding sequences. This makes it difficult to use raw sequence
data to predict which nucleotide regions represent genes. Thus, gene-
scanning programs are continuing to be refined to include up-to-date
knowledge about the characteristics of the ‘departures from randomness’
within genes in species other than bacteria. One such departure from
randomness is called ‘codon bias:’ not all codons are used equally by a
given species. For example, the amino acid alanine can be coded by four
different codons in humans; furthermore, three of those are used much
more frequently than the fourth. In a non-coding region of the genome,
all of the codons have an equal probability of being represented, but in a
coding region the one codon is present less frequently.
The presence of non-coding regions within genes is clearly a com-
plication for gene scanning. Of what benefit could it be to an organism
for its genes to be interrupted by such non-coding regions? It is these
non-coding stretches that have allowed the shorter coding segments to
recombine to form new genes. This provides a mechanism for rapid
genetic change (more rapid than by mutation). New genes are pro-
duced by the novel assembly of
parts. There is another way in
which the division of genes into
many coding regions is adap-
tive, and that is in providing a
mechanism by which slightly
different versions of a protein
can be made in different tis-
sues, adapted to the cellular
environment and function of
that tissue. An example is
shown in Figure 4.10. The
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CHAPTER 5
Figure 4.9
Single strands of DNA
showing the differences in
gene structures in bacteria
compared with eucaryotic
cells. (A) Bacterial genes
contain only coding regions;
that is, the DNA is all
transcribed to mRNA.
(B) In eucaryotic cells
non-coding regions that are
not transcribed are located
within the coding regions of
genes. (C) In humans
(a eucaryotic species) the
amount of non-coding DNA
is much greater than the
amount of DNA that codes
for a protein product.
DNA
DNA
DNA
gene (1000 nucleotides)
gene
coding region
coding regions
(exons)
noncoding regions
(introns)
coding regions noncoding regions
human Factor VIII gene (200,000 nucleotides)
(A) one strand of bacterial DNA
(B) one strand of DNA from a nucleated cell
(C) one strand of human DNA
Genomics Is a New Field of Biology Developed as a Result of the Human Genome Project
117
human gene for a protein called a-tropomyosin contains many coding
regions scattered among non-coding regions. This gene can be tran-
scribed to mRNA in different ways, so that in the cells of one tissue one
set of coding regions is used, and in the cells of another tissue, a different
set of coding regions is transcribed. This results in different mRNAs in the
different cells, and therefore in slightly different proteins after translation.
Each protein is still a-tropomyosin, but with a slightly different amino
acid sequence and therefore a slightly different functional capability.
Although scientists think these large non-coding regions within
genes are adaptive for the organism, they do present a significant obsta-
cle to identifying genes by gene scanning. In fact, it does not appear
that gene-scanning programs alone will be able to identify all of the
genes in a eucaryotic
genome. Hence, the
Human Genome Pro-
ject also funded work
on the genomes of
other species, so that
human genes could be
located by comparison
with the genes of other
species, a field now
known as comparative
genomics.
Comparative genomics
When scientists compare sequences of genes from one species with those
from another, they are working in the field of comparative genomics. The
size of the genome of many species has been determined. As we saw ear-
lier, the overall size does not always correlate with the complexity of the
organism. This is due to the very great differences in the amount of non-
coding DNA in various genomes, so that overall size does not correlate
with the numbers of genes present.
As we have just discussed, genes are much easier to identify in some
species than in others. Once a gene has been identified and its sequence
determined in one species, there is often enough sequence similarity for
its counterpart gene (or genes) to be located in other species. This is the
major reason why other species’ genomes were also examined as part of
the Human Genome Project. Another reason was that sequencing the
genomes of other species allowed scientists to develop the technology
that was later used to analyze human genome sequences.
Many human genes have been located by their similarity to yeast
genes. A yeast cell, like a human cell, has a nucleus and many of its genes
have remained very similar to the counterpart genes in humans. Animals
are even more similar and one animal that is proving to be quite useful in
comparative genomics is the pufferfish, Fugu rubripes. Its genome is only
one-seventh the size of the human genome, yet it is estimated to have the
same number of genes. Because of its small genome size, gene location is
much easier in pufferfish, and may subsequently allow mapping of the
human counterpart genes. The mouse genome is almost complete, and
Figure 4.10
Within human genes all of
the nucleotides are
transcribed into RNA but
only some of the RNA
nucleotides are translated
into protein.
mRNA for tropomyosin in smooth muscle
mRNA for tropomyosin in fibroblast cells
mRNA for tropomyosin in brain cells
mRNA for tropomyosin in striated muscle
DNA strand
a-tropomyosin gene
coding
regions
non-coding
regions
transcription and splicing
many more human genes will be found by comparison with those in the
mouse. Many known genes in mice are located in the same order on their
chromosomes as they are on human chromosomes, and this correspon-
dence is extremely helpful in mapping genes. The mouse genome, how-
ever, is even larger than the human genome, so the problems of working
with a large genome still pertain. See our Web site for information on the
sizes of the genomes of various species (under Resources: Genome sizes).
Aside from its usefulness in locating human genes, comparative
genomics has produced new data for evolutionary biologists. Species
that have a common ancestor have more genes and more nucleotide
sequences in common than species that do not. Unfortunately, the scien-
tists working on a particular species have often independently devised
the database for each species’ genome. Consequently, another goal of
bioinformatics is to devise ways of making the different databases com-
patible and interactive, thereby facilitating comparative genomics.
In addition to finding similarities between species, comparative
genomics has led to the realization that within a species there are groups
of genes that share large portions of their sequences. These ‘gene fami-
lies’ are presumed to have evolved from a common ancestral gene. Find-
ing one gene in the family enables the others to be located, and most
often the different protein products of the family members to be identi-
fied. For example, the human hormones oxytocin and vasopressin (both
proteins) belong to the same gene family, and they have very similar
amino acid sequences and genes that code for them. The same is true of
the oxygen-carrying proteins hemoglobin and myoglobin.
Functional genomics
In Chapter 3 we described how Archibald Garrod and other scientists
studied “inborn errors of metabolism,” disease conditions caused by
changes in biochemical pathways. The study of similar changes in bacte-
ria or yeast have often led to the discovery of entire chains of biochemical
reactions. In the past, scientists looking for the molecules involved in
such a biochemical pathway, would start with a trait and work backwards
to a protein. Pedigrees such as we saw in Chapter 3 would be linked with
different forms of a protein. After purifying the protein and discovering
its amino acid sequence, its gene sequence could be inferred. Gene
sequencing turns this whole process around. Genes are found by linkage
to DNA markers, and only later is the protein product found. However,
finding a gene, mapping its location, sequencing it, and even deriving the
amino acid sequence of its protein product, will not tell us its function.
New sequences can be compared with those whose function is
already known. This is the field of functional genomics. Species that can
be easily manipulated experimentally have been most useful in discover-
ing gene functions. The zebrafish is a vertebrate that reproduces rapidly,
and many of its internal structures are visible in the living fish because
overlying structures are transparent. For these reasons, zebrafish have
become an experimental species of great interest to scientists working
on the genetics of development. An even simpler species, the yeast Sac-
charomyces cerevisiae, has been found to share many genes with
humans. Gene functions that were discovered in yeast have proved to
Chapter 4: Genetic Engineering and Genomics
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have parallels with disease-associated gene mutations in humans. For
some examples see our Web site, under Resources: Yeast genes. The func-
tions of the yeast genes are discovered by several methods. One is to
examine which genes are transcribed to mRNA when the yeast under-
goes a particular response or function; another is to inactivate (mutate) a
gene and see what effect this has. Once the sequence of a gene is known,
it is relatively easy to mutate it by manipulating the DNA causing a
change in the protein product, which is now not functional. The opposite
approach can also be used: extra copies of the gene can be inserted and
observations made of the change in function under different environ-
mental conditions. These approaches are not confined to yeast, but are
also done to discover gene functions in mice and other species.
Earlier in this chapter we saw how a gene could be added to a
genome, using a vector. In Figure 4.4 we saw how the functional gene for
ADA was added to the genome in human cells. This method adds a gene,
but in an unpredictable location within the genome. The non-functional
gene is still present, and indeed one of the possible dangers of the tech-
nique is that the new gene may get added in a place that disrupts some
other gene. More recently, methods have been developed for changing
the sequence of a specific gene. In theory, this technique could be used to
repair a non-functional gene, to mutate a gene in a specific way, or to dis-
rupt a functional gene. A vector is used to carry into the cell a piece of
DNA partly complementary to the gene to be altered. The introduced
double-stranded DNA becomes substituted for the gene region as a result
of crossing-over at two sites where the insert and the gene have the same
sequences (Figure 4.11). If the inserted DNA is non-functional, as shown
in this example, the normal gene is disrupted. The effect of deletion of
that gene’s protein can then be studied in the offspring cells (yeast or tis-
sue culture of human cells). If the gene disruption is carried out on a cell
from a very early stage of development, an entire organism can develop
that is lacking the gene and its protein product. (This topic, part of stem
cell research, is covered in more detail in Chapter 12.) Mutated mice with
particular genes nonfunctional or ‘knocked out’, or mice with overex-
pressed genes produced by the insertion of additional copies of a func-
tional gene, have led to important clues to the functions of human genes.
Families of genes have been found within species that have struc-
turally related protein products but very often quite different functions.
This has led scientists to realize that gene duplication and mutation can
occur first, and that new functions can follow. Of course, a gene that is
present in just a single copy cannot change to a new form (possibly with
a new function) without giving up its original form and function.
A duplicated gene, however, can undergo changes in one copy
(possibly evolving new functions) while the other copy remains
unchanged.
Proteomics
Just as the complete DNA sequence of an organism is its genome,
the complete protein content of that organism is its proteome.
Proteomics is the study of how the protein content changes over
time in a cell and in an organism, how it differs in different tissues,
Genomics Is a New Field of Biology Developed as a Result of the Human Genome Project
119
Figure 4.11
In human genes, different
combinations of coding
regions can be transcribed to
produce different mRNAs in
different tissues.
recombination
at two sites
chromosomal DNA
disrupted gene
vector DNA
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Chapter 4: Genetic Engineering and Genomics
and how it relates to the health and function of the organism. Proteins
are synthesized as a result of transcription of genes and translation of
mRNA, as we saw in Chapter 3. However, there are further modifications
to a protein after it has been translated that affect both its activity and its
concentration. No protein stays in a cell forever; all are degraded and
removed. We will see more about these aspects of protein function in
cells in Chapter 12.
Knowing the DNA sequence of genes has hastened the discovery of
the amino acid sequence of proteins. Computer programs use the known
energies and bond angles of chemical bonds to turn amino acid sequence
data into molecular models of the three-dimensional shape of a protein
or portion of a protein. Having the ability to visualize these shapes by
computer graphics has led to new strategies for the design of medicines.
In the past, natural products and synthetic compounds were randomly
tested in functional assays to see which would work for a particular
need. Now small molecules can be designed to exactly fit a critical enzy-
matic site of a protein. Once the molecule has been designed by com-
puter simulation, medicinal chemists then synthesize it and biologists
test to see whether it has the desired outcome of blocking the protein’s
function. The action of such drugs is far more specific, and the drug will
therefore have fewer side-effects than traditionally developed drugs, for
reasons we will study in Chapter 14.
To synthesize a protein with even a slightly different structure can be
very difficult and costly. However, once the sequence for the gene coding
for that protein is known, it becomes relatively easy to modify the pro-
tein by changing the sequence of its gene. Roughly the same technique as
that in Figure 4.11 is used, but the inserted piece of DNA differs from the
normal piece by only a few nucleotides. Such modifications can, for
example, lead to the development of proteins that are stable under a
wider variety of conditions. These proteins find a variety of industrial
applications. Stain removers in laundry detergents, altered enzymes for
food processing, and cleanup of pollution, are just a few examples.
Rather than studying one protein change at a time, proteomics also
has another goal: to study all of a cell’s proteins in the aggregate. Such a
goal has been unattainable in the past, and is a big factor explaining why
reductionism (reducing a problem to its simplest form) has been a
widespread experimental approach in biology. Proteomics is in its
infancy, but promises to be a much more integrative approach.
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THOUGHT QUESTIONS
1
In what ways are humans poor subjects for
genetic research? In what ways are
humans good subjects? Which of your
reasons are purely biological, and which
have ethical components?
2
Why are certain traits studied in some
species and not others?
3
Will genomics allow the findings in one
species to be applied in other species? Why
or why not?
Summary to Chapter 4
121
Concluding Remarks
As genomics has discovered genes with useful properties within one
species, genetic engineering has given us the tools to transfer those genes
into another species. The Human Genome Project has discovered that
transfer of genes from one species to another does also occur in nature.
Viral and bacterial genes are found in the human genome, for example.
Because we have almost always studied the effect of one gene or one pro-
tein at a time, transferring a gene into a new genomic environment may
lead to different results from those that we expect. As we develop the
tools to alter genomes, proteomics may give us the ways to study the
effects of such changes throughout the cell. We also need to be mindful of
effects at the level of the whole organism and effects of genetic engineer-
ing on ecosystems as well, which we will explore further in Chapter 11.
Chapter Summary
• Restriction enzymes cut DNA into fragments with known sequences at
their ends. Restriction enzymes that produce fragments with single-
stranded sticky ends are used in genetic engineering to splice new genes
into genomes.
• Variations in the lengths of these fragments are called restriction-fragment
length polymorphisms or RFLPs. RFLPs have helped in finding the loca-
tion of many genes, as well as in the identification of individuals and in
genetic engineering.
• Genetic engineering consists of inserting functional genes into cells,
thereby altering the cell’s genotype. The recipient cells may be bacterial
cells that may then acquire the ability to make certain human proteins, or
they may be human cells that acquire a functional allele and are injected
into a patient as gene therapy.
• Bacterial plasmids are used to carry genes into a new species.
• A genome is the total genetic information carried by a particular organ-
ism. The Human Genome Project has now produced a draft sequence and
map of the human genome.
• DNA markers of various kinds have allowed the mapping of genes to
locations within the genome. Markers also allow the identification of
individuals.
• Genomics is the study of the genome, either the comparison of genomes
of different species or as a method of discovering gene functions.
• Bioinformatics combines computer science and molecular biology in the
analysis of genomes and the identification of genes within a genome.
• Proteomics is the study of all of the proteins present within a cell.
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Chapter 4: Genetic Engineering and Genomics
122
CONNECTIONS TO OTHER CHAPTERS
Chapter 1
Genetic engineering and gene therapies raise many ethical issues.
Chapter 2
The genome is the blueprint for the proteome.
Chapter 3
We have learned a lot about human genetics by studying comparative
genomics.
Chapter 5
Comparative genomics is a new tool for discovering the evolutionary
relationships among organisms.
Chapter 6
Comparative genomics may give us important data for use in studying
classifications.
Chapter 7
The amount of possible variation within each gene is much greater than
was previously thought.
Chapter 11
Genetic engineering of crop species is increasing agricultural productivity.
Chapter 17
The same DNA testing techniques as those that are used to identify
individual humans can also identify the bacterial species involved in new
infectious outbreaks and can sometimes also identify its source.
Chapter 18
Comparative genomics is increasing our knowledge of biodiversity.
1.If one individual human differs from another in
0.1% of the genome, how many bases are different?
2.In the following stretch of DNA, how many
fragments will result from digestion with the
HaeIII restriction enzyme shown in Figure 4.1?
How many will result from digestion with EcoRI?
strand 1
A T C C G T A G G C C T A A C C A T C C T A G T G C
T A G G C A T C C G G A T T G G T A G G A T C A C G
strand 2
3.Why are restriction enzymes that produce
fragments with ‘sticky ends’ more useful in genetic
engineering than restriction enzymes that produce
fragments with ‘blunt ends?’
4.Could the following sequence be used as an insert
into genomic DNA? Why or why not?
strand 1
A A G C T T A A C G G A T T A G C A A G C
C G A A T T G C C T A A T C G T T C G A A
strand 2
5.Could the following sequence be used as an insert
into genomic DNA? Why or why not?
strand 1
A A G C U U A A C G G A U U A G C A A G C
C G A A U U G C C U A A U C G U U C G A A
strand 2
6.When a plasmid is being cut with a restriction
enzyme in preparation for inserting a DNA
fragment, the plasmid needs to be cut with the
same restriction enzyme as was used to make the
DNA fragment. Why?
7.Can DNA marker band patterns be used to identify
maternity, as well as paternity?
8.Can DNA marker testing be used to identify
individual organisms in other species besides
humans?
PRACTICE QUESTIONS